Australia expands security assistance to Philippines to combat Islamist militants

(AP)
Updated 24 October 2017
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Australia expands security assistance to Philippines to combat Islamist militants

CLARK FREEPORT ZONE, Philippines: Australia on Tuesday announced the expansion of its security support to the Philippines, which will involve training in urban counter-terrorism, to fight the rise and spread of Islamist militancy in the region.
The announcement follows the end of the 154-day battle for Marawi city which stunned the Philippine’s military inexperienced in urban combat, and fueled concerns Islamic State loyalists wanted to use the southern island of Mindanao as a base for Southeast Asia activity.
The battle for Marawi ended on Monday. Philippines authorities said 920 militants, 165 troops and police and at least 45 civilians were killed in the conflict, which displaced more than 300,000 people.
Australia, along with the United States, Singapore and China, provided weaponry and technical support, including surveillance aircraft.
“All nations must learn from the recent Marawi conflict and the Philippines’ experience,” said Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne, adding Canberra and Manila will host a post-conflict seminar to learn from the five-month Marawi conflict.
About 80 soldiers from Australia’s mobile training team will be deployed in local bases in the Philippines to train army and marine units in urban counter-terrorism warfare, said Payne on the sidelines of an ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting in Clark, a former US air force base.
“The practical training the Australian Defense Forces (ADF) will provide will ensure the Philippines defense force is better able to counter the brutal tactics being employed by terrorists,” Payne told a news conference.
“The spread of Daesh-inspired (Islamic State) terrorism is a direct threat to Australia and its interests and we are committed to working with our partners and allies to ensuring Daesh cannot establish a geographic foothold in the region.”
Payne said Australia was concerned with Islamic State fighters returning from Iraq and Syria to home countries in Southeast Asia and was working closely with Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Singapore to monitor militant movements.
Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in the same briefing the government had been provided by Kurdish intelligence, through Manila’s embassy in Baghdad, with a list of Indonesians, Malaysians and a few Filipinos who might return home.
Lorenzana said the Philippines and Australia are now reviewing the deployment of surveillance planes, which flew four times a week over Marawi since late June.
Apart from urban warfare training, Australia will also enhance provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability, share information and intelligence and strengthen maritime security engagement and bilateral maritime patrols.
An increasing number of Australian warships are expected to make visits to Manila. Canberra is also emerging to be the top source of education and training for local troops.


Pardoned Australian filmmaker to be deported from Cambodia

In this Aug. 29, 2018, file photo, Australian filmmaker James Ricketson, right, is helped off a prisoner truck upon his arrival at Phnom Penh Municipal Court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. (AP)
Updated 8 min 45 sec ago
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Pardoned Australian filmmaker to be deported from Cambodia

  • Ricketson repeatedly insisted he had no political agenda and his work making documentary films was journalistic in nature

PHNOM PEHN, Cambodia: An Australian filmmaker was awaiting deportation from Cambodia on Saturday after receiving a royal pardon for his conviction on spying charges for flying a drone over a political rally.
A spokesman for immigration police said that James Ricketson will be deported on Saturday morning, a day after being released from prison.
“We are now checking a flight for him,” Gen. Keo Vanthan told The Associated Press.
Ricketson, 69, was sentenced to six years in a trial his sympathizers described as farcical because prosecutors never specified whom he was spying for and failed to present evidence that he possessed or transmitted any secrets. He had been detained without bail since June last year in harsh conditions.
He was arrested after flying a drone to photograph a rally of the Cambodian National Rescue Party — the only credible opposition party that was later dissolved by the courts at the instigation of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.
His pardon is the latest in a series of releases of political prisoners after the ruling party’s landslide victory in a July election that critics and observers said was deeply flawed.
Ricketson repeatedly insisted he had no political agenda and his work making documentary films was journalistic in nature.
His Aug. 31 conviction was met with only lukewarm public concern from Australia’s prime minister and foreign minister. Their public stance was criticized, but also led to speculation that an understanding might have been reached with Cambodian authorities for Ricketson’s early release.
Ricketson’s lawyer, Kong Sam Onn, said Friday that his client would go first to Phnom Penh and then travel to Australia.
“James will go back to his home country after he is released, but later he will be back to Cambodia because the pardon letter doesn’t bar him from re-entering Cambodia,” he said. However, there is no official statement guaranteeing he will be readmitted.
Ricketson had said during his trial that he wished to re-establish a project that he had launched before his arrest to buy some land to resettle several poor Cambodian families who have been living at a garbage dump. He and several character witnesses had testified that he provided financial assistance to several poverty stricken Cambodians.